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Image / Living / Culture

Author’s Bookshelf: Lilly Higgins on creating a handbook of projects and recipes to guide you through the seasons


By Sarah Gill
10th Sep 2022
Author’s Bookshelf: Lilly Higgins on creating a handbook of projects and recipes to guide you through the seasons

Lilly Higgins

Television chef, food photographer and award-winning food writer, Lilly Higgins tells us about the practicality and pure joy of unleashing creativity.

Earlier this week, we shared an extract from Lilly Higgins’ celebration of crafting, DIY and sustainability, The Homemade Year, and today we’re catching up with the author to hear all about her experience creating an adult version of her favourite childhood book.

 

Lilly Higgins

Did you always want to be a writer/author?

I wanted to be an artist when I was little, then a fashion designer, architect and air hostess. It was always chopping and changing! I did a year of animation in college, then art for another year before getting my degree in design. Then I went to Ballymaloe cookery school and eventually became a food writer! My favourite subjects in school were art, English and home economics, my job is now a mix of all three. It wasn’t until I won Best Cookery Writer at The Irish Food Writing awards last year that I realised this really is my job!

What inspired you to start writing?

I started a food blog back in 2010 because I loved reading other blogs on interiors, arts and crafts, and food. Then I began a column in Easy Food Magazine, wrote a weekly recipe column for The Sunday Business Post for 3 years, and am now a weekly columnist for The Irish Times for the past 8 years.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

It’s a book that I’ve really been preparing for for the past twenty years. So many experiences have come together to form the idea for this. As a child I loved the Child Craft art book and this is like an adult version. A creative handbook of projects and recipes to guide you through the seasons.

Lilly Higgins

What did you learn when writing this book?

I learned that it’s okay to be creative! It does fit into the everyday world and it can be practical. I learnt that the process of creating is just as rewarding as the finished product. It really helped me to connect the natural world around me and to tune into these seasons.

Three words to describe your writing process:

Research. Discipline. Enjoyable.

Do you have any quirky habits when writing?

I have a fun habit of procrastinating! I just will do anything at all except for what I need to do. I’ll spend all day distracting myself then at about midnight I really start to let the words flow, I get into that zone where the writing is just coming so easily and I don’t want to close my laptop until the dawn arrives and my children are demanding breakfast. It’s what works for me!

The first book you remember reading is…

The Gingerbread Man. I was so triumphant when I finished it by myself!

Your favourite Irish author is…

Maeve Higgins. I’m slightly biased because she’s my sister, but she has four books now — all collections of essays — and they’re just fantastic. I could read her work all day. She has such a gift for taking topics that are complicated and explaining them beautifully and sensitively.

The book you gift everyone is…

The Ballymaloe Cookery Course, by Darina Allen. It’s a big silver book with every recipe you’ll need.

Lilly Higgins

Three books everyone should read:

  1. Tell Everyone on This Train I Love Them, by Maeve Higgins.
  2. In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean, by Hawa Hassan and Julia Turshen.
  3. Palestine on a Plate, by Joudie Kalla.

Do you listen to music when you write?

Not really. When I’m doing research and reading I do but when I’m writing, silence is best.

The best money you ever spent as a writer was on…

I wrote my first book on a 9” dell laptop. It was absolutely tiny and I edited all of the photos on it too. Upgrading to a Macbook for my next books was a game changer!

The three books you’d bring with you to a desert island are…

  1. Listen to the Land Speak, by Manchán Magan.
  2. Falastin, by Sami Tammimi.
  3. Mezcla, Recipes to Excite, by Ixta Belfrage.

A quote you love is…

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all” – Oscar Wilde.

The book you always return to is…

Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Food wise I really love The Unbakery by a New Zealand cafe Little Bird. It’s all raw, plant based recipes and I know every page by heart at this stage.

Seeing your book in shops is…

The most amazing feeling in the world! It’s just surreal to see multiple copies of something you created all stacked up. It’s amazing to see it come from an idea and then materialise into an actual book. Just magic.

One book you wish you had written is…

Pride and Prejudice, because I love Jane Austen’s writing style, sense of humour and how she observed everything.

Lilly Higgins
Lilly Higgins’ writing, crafting and creating desk

How do you use social media as an author?

I see social media as an extension of my written work. It’s a way to bring work to life and show it in a different dimension. For my recipe writing, I love to bring the dishes to life creating reels and imagery for Instagram and TikTok. The same with crafting and home projects; I just love photography, editing video and music. It’s a way to draw the reader in and introduce them to more recipes and crafts.

Should books be judged by their covers? How did you pick yours?

In a way you have to judge the book by the cover. A picture can paint a thousand words and it’s up to the book’s creators to choose a cover to communicate what the book’s about. I was so lucky that my friend Gillian Carney took the photos of me and the lovely photos of chapter openers for the book. We had a great day in my house and it was such a relaxed and positive experience. We knew just what we were looking for in a cover shot, so aimed for that.

Do you find it hard not to procrastinate when writing?

Absolutely. I’ve embraced procrastination now as part of the process. I build it in as part of the journey.

The best advice you’ve ever gotten is…

Use your own voice for writing and don’t try to emulate anyone else’s work. Focus on what you’re trying to communicate and not how you come across. It’s what works best and is the most authentic, sustainable way.

The Homemade Year: Things to make, do and eat at home to welcome every season by Lilly Higgins is on sale now.